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Why Aussies Care More About Property Prices Than Saving The Planet

People oppose climate change action if it would have an effect on the price of their homes, a startling study has found, with a phenomenon of "socially organised denial" putting financial interests above safety.

A "wait and see" approach to environmental action, even among those who believe in the effects of climate change, led to homeowners opposing reforms from local council which would have had a negative effect on their property prices.

Despite report after report warning of the rapidly-closing window for fundamental reform of energy and emissions to avoid locking-in catastrophic climate change, the research found that many people would be reluctant to take action on climate unless and until they could see the effects with their own eyes.

Do Aussies care more about house prices than climate action? Photo: Getty

Instead of climate action, people were found to be "prioritising immediate economic considerations, specifically around property values".

The results, detailed in a study from researchers at the University of Sydney and University of Newcastle, came from analysis of residents living at Lake Macquarie, on the NSW central coast. Dr Vanessa Bowden, from the Newcastle business school, said they chose that location because of the council's strong action on climate policy.

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This action included plans to identify zones in the lakeside town at risk of rising sea levels or other effects of climate change. However, Bowden and her fellow researchers found that residents were "upset" at the idea, which they feared may drop the prices of their homes or increase their insurance premiums, if they were classified as being in a flood area.

"People said they believed in climate change, but would talk about things like not having seen the lake rise themselves, just going off their observations and saying it was being exaggerated," Bowden told 10 daily.

"They didn't believe it was something they needed to do anything about."

Countless scientists have warned of the effects of climate change. Photo: Getty

The report detailed that "a primary source of anger and concern in the community came from anxiety that land values were declining and insurance premiums were increasing as a result of properties being spatially classified as flood prone."

Bowden said the modelling had shown "many" properties may be vulnerable to rising waters in Lake Macquarie. The council could have responded with ways to mollify that threat, and to put further restrictions on new developments, such as building new homes at higher levels or changing construction certification processes.

"This is a problem we find in general with climate change. It's difficult to understand, and seen as coming very far in the future, which isn't the indicators we're getting," Bowden said.

"Compared to more immediate concerns, and property prices are included in this, climate action is not prioritised."

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The report, published in the journal Global Environmental Change, said "if a future in which the climate has dramatically changed cannot be imagined, there is little motivation to act."

"Local knowledge, gained through measurement, observation and experience, displaced climate science as a guiding tool for planning for change," the report continued, saying many ordinary people could be led to believe climate change was "an abstracted theory which was unlikely to occur".

Photo: Getty

One man surveyed, a property developer, called climate change "theoretical rubbish".

The researchers identified this trend as "socially organised denial".

"While people would say they weren't denying climate change, they actually sort of were, by not being able to talk about it or letting the science inform policy direction," Bowden said.

"They talk about future planning as things you can see as indicators, not taking into account the actual science of climate change."

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The report laid part of the blame at the feet of the fossil fuels industry, saying that "climate denial has been central to this strategy, which needs only to create doubt about the need for action on climate change in order to be successful."

"Thus while we see high levels of concern about climate change, questions about urgency, efficacy, and what is causing climate change remain," it continued.

Bowden praised the local council for its action on climate -- but said other levels of government needed to do more to combat both climate change itself, and to work to educate the public.

"The council has done what they can, without having much state or federal support. That's part of the difficulties in making progressive change a reality," she said.